Who Created Our Favourite Sweets, and Why?

By Chris Mills on at

There's something a little bit magical about sweet-makers. If Roald Dahl is to be believed, they're eccentric gents in purple suits and top-hats, or quirky inventors with flying cars and a litter of adorable singing children. Sadly, the truth isn't quite as magical as the West End musicals, but the story of how our favourite tooth-rot came to be is still fascinating.


Wine Gums

Wine gums, as every dentist-fearing 11-year-old knows full well, are the product of a magical place called Maynards. Charles Riley Maynard started his confectionery business with brother Tom back in 1880, selling sweeties out of a shop in Stoke Newington. Back then, they were selling simple confectionery -- boiled sweets, coconut-ice and coconut-candy. In just fifteen years, the still-wine-gum-less Maynards business expanded to almost twenty stores, and floated rather successfully on the stock market.

Their legacy -- wine gums -- only came about as a result of Charles Riley's son, though. Charles Gordon Maynard wasn't satisfied with the hard candies -- toffee, caramel and boilings -- that the company made originally, so he worked tirelessly at the Maynard's Vale Road factory to come up with the recipe for Wine Gums.

His father, however, was a strict teetotaller and a Methodist, and wasn't exactly delighted with the prospect of selling sweets that seemed to encourage drinking. Charles Gordon persevered though, and in 1909, Wine Gums got a trial in the Maynards distribution channel. They were an immediate hit, and business boomed. If Charles Gordon wasn't quite so stubborn, though, Daddy Maynard and the Methodist church might've got their way, and we might be living in a wine-gum-free world -- the horror!



Haribo. The largest confectionery company in the world, probably responsible for thousands of cavities and doubtlessly maker of the world's worst TV ads. The name Haribo comes from 'Hans Riegel Bonn', a bad mashup of the founder's name -- Hans Riegel -- and the place where the gummy bear took its first gooey steps, Bonn.

One of Haribo's most iconic products is the Goldbear, better known as the gummy bear. Having been trained in the dark arts of making sweeties with a company called Kleutgen and Meier, he founded his own company shortly after World War I. Settling down with a house, wife and small stack of sugar, he spent two years coming up with the original 'dancing bear' product, through a long process of trial and error. Although everyone knows the shape of gummy bears, the shape was the last part of the process: most of the two years was spent perfecting the 'fruit drop' product that's moulded into the dancing bear shape.


Mars Bar

Frank Mars was the epitome of the American dream -- a humble salesman who, dissatisfied with the product he was selling, vowed to produce better. Frank hastened unto the kitchen, and through a process of elimination, settled on a bar of chocolate, caramel and nougat, made with the finest ingredients and sold by his wife as the "Milky Way".

In 1932, though, Forrest Mars, the son of great and now nearly-dead Frank, rented a factory in Slough and set about manufacturing a European version of the Milky Way bar, which he termed the "Mars bar". Even now, the basic recipe is still basically unchanged, bar a few subtle reductions in size over the years to help with cost obesity.



Dairy Milk

Unlike many sweets, Dairy Milk was more a labour of love than a bolt out of the blue. Cadbury's, the company behind Dairy Milk, had been running for 80 years when Dariy Milk was launched in 1905. Founded in 1824 by John Cadbury, the firm started as a small business in Bull Street, Birmingham. They had a good start selling to the wealthy of Birmingham, given the fashionable status of cocoa and drinking chocolate -- in 1854, they even acquired a Royal Warrant as the suppliers of chocolate to Queen Vic.

Back in those days, though, no one really made chocolate as we know it. The products on sale were cocoa and drinking chocolate, which were sold as powders or pressed cakes. The first 'chocolate bar' was produced by Fry's of Bristol, and it was a concoction of sugar and cocoa powder, with a bit of cocoa butter to make it pliable. It wasn't until 1875 that milk chocolate was invented, when the Swiss took to the art of chocolate-making. Cadbury's lagged until 1904, when George Cadbury Jr. was given the task of producing a milk-heavy chocolate bar that would have more dairy than anything else on the market.

He succeeded, producing a recipe that's pretty much still used today -- the only things that have changed have been the packaging (originally, there was none), and the shape of the bars, which have seen several changes to end up with the angular squares we have today.


Jelly Babies

The invention of jelly babies is shrouded in mystery. Traditional legend has it that they were invented by Bassetts in the wake of the First World War, and branded as "Peace Babies".

As nice and heart-warming as this story is, it's more likely they were the brainchild of an Austrian called Steinbeck, who emigrated to Lancashire from mainland Europe in the late 19th Century. The first Jelly Baby was reputed to be made around 1864, as a confectionery version of traditional Austrian gingerbread men. In any case, it's doubtful that they were first invented in 1918; rather, it's a clever bit of Bassetts marketing. One more quintessentially British sweet invented by a foreigner, then.

Image credit: Sweets from Shutterstock